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By Geoff Thompson
Punch ups, muggings and even fatalities are frighteningly common in a society that is bulging at the waist with unsolicited assaults. Due to astonishing growth-rate of violent crime in Britain, skills in self-defence are almost a pre-requisite if you want to get from the pub to the Indian and home again in one piece.
In an attack situation, options - from avoiding a confrontation with guile right through to swapping some leather - are useful; the choices are varied and subjective but when your adrenaline is racing and your legs are doing an involuntary bossanova the choice (as they say) will be entirely yours.
I'm sure you have already seen - and are tired of - the wristlocks and shoulder throws that garnish just about every article and video on self-defence. They only work in Bruce Lee films and on police self-defence courses so I'll spare you the embarrassment of a photo-shoot-re-run. If you don't mind I'll stick to the stuff that works when the pavement is your arena, and there are no referees with whistles and bells to stop a point scoring match turning into a blood and snot debacle.
My premise is basic but empirical, and at some point it might prove life saving.
Whilst some situations actually start at a physical response (in which case you either fight like a demon or you get battered), most are preceded by some kind of pre-fight ritual and introductory dialogue; even if it is only the uninspiring 'are you looking at my missus?' The Real art of self-defence is not in bringing the affray to a messy conclusion with a practised right cross, rather it is in spotting the attack ritual in its early stages so that a physical encounter can be avoided.
As a man with a varied and brutal background I can tell you with sincerity and emphasis that violence is not the answer. Reflecting this my opening advice is to avoid violence whenever and where ever possible. Make yourself a hard target by giving volatile environments a wide birth. James Coburn was succinct when he advised us to 'avoid arseholes and big egos, avoid places where arseholes and big egos hang out'. He could have added 'don't be an arsehole and don't have a big ego yourself'. It helps. The inevitable consequences of toe-to-toe encounters are rarely favourable to either party so around-the-table negotiation should always be exhausted before sending in the troops.
Pre-fight management is vital if you want to survive an altercation intact; the winner is usually the one who controls the seconds before an affray. Most situations start at conversation range and with some kind of dialogue. If this is mismanaged the situation normally - and quickly - degenerates into a scuffle and then a scrap on the floor amidst chip wrappers and dog-ends. The current crop of defence innovators recommends the floor as the place to be when a fight goes live. In the No-Holds-Barred (NHB) one-on-one sports arena they'd probably be right, but outside the chippy where the terrain is less predictable and the enemy nearly always has allies in tow, taking the fight to the cobbles is suicidal. It leaves you open to (often fatal) secondary attacks, especially if you're facing more than one opponent.
If you are approached and the dialogue starts (this is known as the interview), take up a small inconspicuous 45° stance and put up your fence : place your lead hand in that all-important space between you and your antagonist to maintain a safe gap. The fence gives you a degree of control without your aggressor knowing. Placed correctly, your lead hand and reverse hand will block the thoroughfare (without touching) of the attacker's right and left hand. If he moves forward to butt/kick/punch, be prepared to shove him back and/or attack. Try not to touch the assailant with your fence unless you are forced to, as it can trigger aggression and possibly a physical attack.
If you want to keep your face in place, don't let a potential attacker touch you at any time, even if he appears to be friendly. An experienced fighter will feign friendliness, even submission, to make an opening for his attack (pic). Another common ploy is for an attacker to offer a handshake and then head-butt/knife you as soon as the grip is taken (pic). If you fall prey to the verbal opener you will quickly become work experience for a student nurse at the ER, so use your fence to maintain a safe gap until the threat has gone.
Expect to be scared because, no matter how experienced you are, you will be. Fear is the natural precursor to confrontation. I've worked with some premier league players and privately they all tell the same story; at the point of contact they'd rather be any where in the world than where they are. So don't let self-doubt enter the equation if you feel like crapping your Calvin's because you're not on your own, we all feel fear even if some of us pretend that we don't. Shaking legs, trembling voice and feelings of cowardice are all natural by-products of the adrenal release.
If you find your self facing pro-magnum man and he starts to growl, try and talk the situation down. Again, the battle will be more with your own ego than it will be with your antagonist. Don't be afraid to admit that you don't want trouble and beat a hasty retreat. Better to follow the Judo adage and walk away with confidence than to end up in an affray that might change the course of your life for the worst.
If talking fails to make the grade (and you think it might work) you could try posturing (pic). I made it work for me as an 11 stone novice doorman so you don't have to be big to be effective. Posturing entails making like a woolly mammoth in an attempt to psyche out your antagonist. Create a gap between you and your aggressor by shoving him hard on the chest. Once the gap has been secured go crazy; shout, salivate, spread your arms, bulge your eyes and drop into single syllables. This triggers the opponent's flight response and often scares him into capitulation. As soon as he backs off beat a hasty retreat.
If escape, dissuasion and posturing crack at the spine and if you have honest belief that you are about to be attacked you are left with two choices; hit or be hit. As a self-defence adviser my duty is not to tell you which to choose, only to offer you the options, and allow you to select for your self.
The pre-emptive strike
If your choice is a physical response, my advice is to be pre-emptive and strike first - very hard - preferably on the jaw (it's a direct link to the brain). The concept of defence at the point of contact is not only unsound it is dangerous and extremely naive. Waiting for someone to attack you is strategic madness because blocks don't work! The Kwai-Chang-Cain theory of block and counter-attack is even more absurd, especially if you are facing more than one opponent. There is no finesse about fighting multiple opponents, they do not line up and attack you one at a time they strike like a swarm of bees and luck is the only thing that'll keep a beat in your heart.
If you honestly believe that you are about to become target practice for the hard of thinking, hit them before they can hit you. Once you have landed the first strike, run. Many defence gurus advocate a second strike, a finisher. I advise not. Your first strike buys you vital getaway time. If you're dealing with a determined attacker (many are very experienced in the art of maim) and you don't leg it after the first strike, chances are he'll grab you and snap you like a twiglette.
Self-defence is about doing the minimum a situation will allow to ensure your own survival. It's not about defending a corpulent ego or misguided honour.
Having been involved in thousands of live encounters the pre-emptive attack was the only consistently effective technique I could find.
My advice is to hit as hard as you can, using your fists (or your head). These are (usually) the closest naturally available weapons to the target (your opponents jaw), and offer the safest and most direct route. At this point it would be a great advantage to have a background in a punching art - preferably western boxing. Most people think they can throw a good punch. From my experience - and certainly under pressure - few can. A great way to learn is to go to a boxing club or do a little focus pad work with a friend to develop the skills.
If you do employ the pre-emptive attack make sure you know your legal rights (a little more on this later) or you might be in for a double jeopardy when you have to defend them against the second enemy - the law.
You dictate reasonable force; although you may have to defend your interpretation of reasonable in a court of law. If you are so frightened by an assailant that you have to hit him with everything but the girl on your arm, then that is reasonable force. If, however, you knock someone to the ground and then do the fifty-six-move kata on their head, you might well be stretching your luck.
I can't guarantee that you won't end up in the dock, but I feel that it's better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.
Forget the films where the good guy - using empty hands - prevails over the knife-wielding psychopath without ruffling his own hair or popping a shirt button, because on celluloid is the only place it's going to happen. Someone once asked me at a self-defence seminar 'what could you do against a knife?'
'About 50 miles an hour', I replied.
I've faced a few blades and I've been stabbed some in my time (but enough about my ex-wife!) and on every occasion I filled my nappy. If your antagonist is carrying, take the advice of Forrest Gump and run like the wind blows. Even with 30 years of martial arts training under my belt, it was providence and not skill that kept me off the cold slab.
If you are facing a knife, the best-case scenario is that you don't die. If a knife is pulled and running away is not on the option list, throw anything that isn't nailed to the floor at the attacker, and then run. If projection range is lost your only other option is to blitz the attacker with head strikes until he is unable to continue his attack.
The rule of thumb here is that stabbers don't usually show the blade, they just sneak up and insert it when you're not aware. If they do show you the knife they are usually just posturing. Always check the hands of your antagonist - if you can't see the palms, or a hand is concealed, you have to presume they are carrying.
If the attacker does have a weapon and doesn't respond to your verbal dissuasion, your options are two-fold: give them what they ask for (and just hope it's not oral sex) or be prepared to get cut in the affray.
Self-defence and the law.
As important as the law may be, contemplating the legal implications of defending your self in the face of ensuing attack would be unwise. It can cause indecision, which usually leads to defeat.
I call the law the second enemy: this is not meant disparagingly, but, having been on the wrong side of it a few times I feel duty bound to highlight the inherent dangers of dealing with - what can be - a sticky judicial system, post-assault.
Many people are convicted for what they say and not what they do. This means you could legally defend yourself and yet still be convicted and sent to jail (do not pass go...) if you don't claim self-defence (correctly) when giving a statement to the police. Many of my friends ended up in prison because they didn't understand the law. Paradoxically many known criminals have avoided prison because they (or certainly their solicitors) did. So, if self-defence is your aim, then an appreciation of this judicial grey area has to be an imperative.
Post-assault, you'll probably be suffering from what is known as adrenal-induced Tachypsychia. This can cause time distortion, time loss, memory distortion and memory loss. You may also feel the innate urge to talk, if only to justify your actions (Logorrhoea). All of the latter affect your ability to make an objective statement if the police become involved. When/if you do make a statement it is hardly likely to be accurate considering these facts. Six months down the line when you end up in court to defend your right to self-defence, everything will hang on your statement. So make sure you're clear about your rights. If you're not clear, insist on waiting until the next day before making a statement or ask to see a duty solicitor (or your own). It's your right. Don't put pen to paper otherwise. A police cell can be a very lonely place when you're not used to it, and the police can often be guilty of rushing, even pressuring you for a quick statement. This pressure can be subtle but effective; being left alone for long periods of time, being told that you might be sent to prison, even the good cop-bad cop routine (yes, honestly). Many a tough guy has turned from hard to lard after a few hours surrounded by those four grey walls. Under these circumstances it's very easy to say things you really don't want to say, just so that you can go home.
If you have to defend your self and you damage your assailant my advice is not to hang around after the dirty deed has been done. This minimises the risk of legal (or other) repercussions. Attack victims (especially those who successfully defended them selves) often feel compelled to stay at the scene of crime post assault. Do your self a favour; make like Houdini and vanish? Your life and your liberty might be at stake. Better still don't be there in the first place, that way you won't have to worry about long months waiting for the court case and the possibility of suffering from a sever loss of liberty.
Self-defence has been sold and sold to death. There are a million how-to books on the subject and experts are coming out of the martial woodwork. They all mean well but good advice is rare and bad advice can be get you killed. I can save you a lot of reading and a lot of pain by giving you my tried-and-tested learned-in-the-field system for physical self-defence. It's only five words long (and one of them is an expletive) - Learn to hit f****** hard.
This article has been reproduced with the permission of Geoff Thompson
Geoff Thompson has written 30 published books - 250,000 copies in print - and was on the Sunday Times Best-Seller list with his autobiographical book Watch My Back about his nine years working as a night club doorman.
He has published several articles for GQ magazine, and has also been featured in FHM, Maxim, Arena, Front and Loaded magazines. For two years he was a contributing editor for Men's Fitness magazine. He has been featured many times on mainstream TV about his book and his articles. Geoff has completed several book signing tours of Great Britain promoting his books in Waterstone and W.H. Smith.
As one of the highest ranking martial arts instructors in Britain, Geoff was voted the number 1 self defense author in the world by Black Belt Magazine USA and was invited to teach for Chuck Norris twice in Las Vegas Nevada.